Four easy steps to sunrise seascape images

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How often have you thought about shooting a sunrise seascape but were never really sure where to start? Here is a starter's guide to get you motivated and excited.

Avalon, Northern Beaches
Avalon, Northern Beaches

1. Planning

It goes without saying that you need to check the weather the day before and see if it’s worth waking up at the sparrow’s fart.I use three main apps to help decide:

  • Clear Outside (Cloud Checker) allows you to see how much cloud cover you will have at sunrise or sunset. It shows you the percentage of cloud cover in low, mid and high range hourly
  • Willy Weather (Tide & Swell Check) Like most surfers, they like to see how much swell and wave height there might be at a particular time and place. Knowing when the tides are low or high can greatly affect the safety of your morning shoot. Choose the best location to suit your level of security. Many rock fishermen and seascape photographers often take high risks of being swept away
  • Photo Pills (Angle of Sun) Knowing the angle of the sun and the exact time we have blue and golden hours will help you set up in the perfect spot. It’s always a good idea to scout the area the day before if you have not been to a seascape location.
Avalon, Northern Beaches
Avalon, Northern Beaches

2. Gear

Aside from my camera gear which is listed below, here is a list of other essential extras needed to keep you and your camera dry.

Spiked Boots - Some rock surfaces can be very slippery with clear moss. It’s hard to notice in the dark of dawn where it is safe to step.

Small Towels - I always have a towel to dry off my camera and myself,especially after the occasional unexpected splash.

Spiked Tripod - Some tripod feet can be replaced with a spiked peg to lock yourself into the sand a bit firmer.

Wipes & lens cleaner - Before, after and during my shoot I often check my lens to make sure there are no drops. It's always a good idea to also wipe down your lens, body and tripod after each seascape shoot. Salt condensation can build up over time and eventually damage your gear.

Box beach
Box beach

3. Execution

Hopefully you have done a little scouting the day before to have some idea on where you would like to do some nice compositions. Bare in mind the tide will be different the next day which will greatly affect the mood of the shots. If you can arrive at least 45 minutes before sunrise this will give you time to settle and relax on your first set of shots.

Look for three spots - I usually move every ten minutes to try and get at least three different perspectives. Don’t be afraid to move around and challenge yourself to have a different interpretation of your environment.

Look for three angles - Vary your tripod height, shoot in portrait or landscape format and lastly, choose a different focal length to maximise your shooting angles.

Look for three methods - Every photographer has a different method of shooting a landscape.

Maroubra sunrise
Maroubra sunrise

In my camera bag I usually carry a soft reverse grad 3 stop, Circular Polarising Filter (CPL), and a 10 stop Neutral Density (ND) filter. All are used for different situations.

Generally speaking the soft grad 3 stop I use for a sunrise or sunset to separate the dark foreground from light horizon areas. The CPL is usually used in combination with the soft grad 3 stopper. This helps me to increase my shutter speed time and add more contrast to the shot. The 10 stop is almost always used during the day with harsh light. This allows me to put sunglasses on my lens to get longer exposures for those silky smooth water shots.

Shooting without filters - If you are an advanced user of Photoshop or Lightroom, then you should already know how to salvage and bring out details in dark shadows. More importantly always expose for the highlights.

You can usually get away with just one exposure, but if not, you may want to try bracketing a high dynamic range image (HDR). This is when you blend three different exposure values (i.e. +/- 3 stops) to have a composite of one shot when editing. Make sure not to move your camera between shots. You can then blend these images in post production.

Avalon, Sunrise
Avalon, Sunrise

4. Editing

Always shoot in RAW not JPEG format to suck out the best tonal range available in your shots.

Lightroom - For basic editing of your images a slider is available to bring out the best detail in your highlights or shadows panel. Blacks and whites can also be controlled to avoid blown out areas or areas that are too dark.

Photoshop/Luminosity Masking - If you have Photoshop then a downloadable panel such as TK is worth having if you wish to seperate and have more tonal control of your images. You may to blend composite layers to achieve the best results.

About the author: Alfonso Calero is a professional photographer based in Sydney, Australia. Over the past 20 years, Alfonso has photographed everyone from politicians to artists and everything from exquisite food to amazing landscapes. See more of his work at, book a 1-on-1 photography course with him, or join his workshops in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, or Fremantle.

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